‘The Purge’ Producer Jason Blum Makes “The Sundance of Horror”

By  · Published on June 6th, 2013

Blumhouse productions has been making quite a go at the box-office over the past few years. “Quite a go” may actually be an understatement, considering they’re pulling in big numbers for very non-tentpole releases. After the success of Paranormal Activity, producer Jason Blum has been making a lot of bang for his buck. With Insidious and the Activity franchise, Blum has cornered the market on low budget horror movies aimed at a broad audience.

His newest project, The Purge, is hoping to follow in those films’s footsteps. The high-concept siege movie was made for a mere three million dollars, which isn’t even close to the budget of the fellow wide releases we’re seeing this summer. Even if the movie doesn’t strike gold, expect a profit and more movies like it from Blumhouse. Not a bad model by any standard.

Here’s what The Purge producer Jason Blum had to say about that business plan and finding creativity within it.

The movie is around 80 minutes long. Once the break in begins, it moves fast. Was that the movie [director] James DeMonaco wanted to make from the start?

Totally. It’s relatively close to the first script I read from him. Whenever you hear a good idea you always think it had to have already been done. I always loved the idea of it. I didn’t have to fight as hard as I have in the past, like, for Paranormal Activity [Laughs]. Funnily enough, there were people at our company who didn’t think the idea worked. “Fight” would be too strong of a word, but the debates I had were with people who work with me and weren’t as convinced as I was. We’ll see, though. I think I won the argument [Laughs].

[Laughs] And the idea isn’t set up for a particularly long amount of time in the film. How much discussion was there over the time required to be spend on this world versus the more action heavy side?

All of our movies…I shouldn’t say all, but usually the set up is longer than traditional studio movies. I try not to put pressure on filmmakers to come up with a big scare at the beginning. I think that helps let the audience settle in and get to know the people they’re about to spend 90 minutes with. Once the scarier stuff happens, it’s scarier because of that. It’s always a struggle when you cutdown the beginning of a movie, because then the scary genre elements aren’t as scary. But if you let things go on for too long, then the pace is too slow. We try to find a balance. We don’t always get it right, but we try.

That must also come down to casting. Hiring Ethan Hawke, he’s someone an audience already has a familiarity with him and is probably going to root for from the beginning.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. He’s a great old friend of mine. We’ve done two of these movies together and it’s taken me a long time to convince him to do a horror movie. I finally got him to agree to Sinister, where he had such a good time he agreed to do this six months later. I was thrilled by that, because it’s really fun to make movies with people you’ve known for a long time. We have a great short-hand together. I also think he’s a really good actor.

Didn’t you two work on Hamlet as well?

I did. I did Hamlet with him around 1999, but I started working with him in the early ’90s. We had a theater company together, where I was the producing director and he was the artistic director. That was our first collaboration, so it’s been going on for 20 years.

Did you see yourself as a horror guy back then? Was this the goal?

100% not [Laughs]. We never thought so. Ethan and I really grew up on the independent movies of the ’90s. I was at Miramax buying them while he was in New York acting in them. We’ve talked about how the movies we’re doing now are the 2000 teen version of those. A lot of that work has migrated to television with dramatic acting, but we’re making these out of the box but very commercial, lower budget genre movies; it’s our current day version of Sundance [Laughs].

[Laughs] In terms of that lower budget, the horror movies you’ve made have a limited amount of locations. Beyond budgetary reasons, is there a challenge on filmmakers there that you think works as a motivator to milk every room for a scare?

I would say yes, but the reverse of what you said. I do it because we keep our budget downs. It’s not for financial reasons, because if we keep our budgets down, we have total creative freedom. Most of the time we pass that onto the writers and directors to make their vision. I think a happy result to that process is, when you limit resources in filmmaking, it forces people to be more creative. I don’t do it for that reason, but I think what you’re saying does happen. You don’t have an endless special effects budget or schedule. You have to focus on just great storytelling, and I think lower budgets help do that.

Or finding scares in simplicity. The masks in the film, for example.

Totally. We looked at a bunch of masks. We produced the movie with Michael Bay’s company, Platinum Dunes, who had a lot of input. Again, everything you see in the movie is James’s choice. He had final say in every creative aspect of the movie, but they gave him a bunch of choices under his noise. We actually looked at all kinds of things, not just masks.

I’ve spoken with Brad Fuller from Platinum Dunes a few times and he’s said there’s no better feeling than seeing an audience react in a big way to their horror movies. Do you feel the same?

Brad and Drew were really involved and on the set, so feel free to talk to them about it. But, yeah, that’s one of the most fun things about making horror movies. You know when you really got something right, but also when you really got something wrong. It’s very satisfying when you get it right. It’s a little depressing when you get it wrong…

[Laughs] How do you move forward if something goes wrong?

There’s really no dwelling. That’s a side benefit of making lower budget movies: if they don’t hit the mark, no one really loses any money on them. It allows us to take chances and have our directors try different things. It’s side benefit of the model.

One big risk this summer is World War Z. If that movie comes out and does huge business, do you think that could open the door for more big-budget horror movies?

Is that the category we’re putting it in?

See, I’m not sure. It is an action movie, but it does have zombies.

Right. You know, it’s a great question that I haven’t thought of in that context yet. I’d say, maybe? I can tell you that I won’t be making those bigger movies, though. I guess it would open up that market, but I’ll leave those to someone else.

The Purge opens in theaters on June 7th.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.